Throughout life, there are constant shifts that impact our connection to sexuality. While this is not a commonly discussed topic, having an ebb and flow to your sexual desire is a completely natural part of life. Our libido may have a personal “norm,” but life events such as moving cities, the death of a loved one, a breakup, a shift in dietary needs, and of course parenthood will impact our access to sexual intimacy. Often referred to as the “fourth trimester”, the period after childbirth (or a new adoption) impacts every aspect of new parents’ lives.
It’s not just people who give birth who experience these changes, it’s everyone who is a new parent from adoptive parents to new fathers and partners of those who gave birth. The medical approach to this topic often comes in the form of checking off boxes to simple questions like have you had sex since giving birth? Or what kind of birth control are you using, if any?
The lack of resources for new parents re-navigating their sexual life with a newborn leaves people feeling isolated and alone in this issue. But you aren’t alone and there are ways you can reconfigure your sexual life to be fulfilling again!
Acknowledge the changed role sex plays in your life.
With parenthood comes a new schedule, different priorities, and fluctuating needs of the child. The role that sex plays in your life will likely evolve with being a new parent. It’s okay if sex used to always be spontaneous and playful but now is scheduled. Acknowledging the ways in which your relationship to sex has changed is vulnerable, but it will help you create a new journey towards pleasure.
Keep the lines of communication open.
As you refigure the meaning sex has in your life, communicate with your partner(s) and ask them where they’re at in the process. Even if you’re not having sex yet post-pregnancy, keeping the dialogue open will help ease into sex when you’re ready. This practice also ensures the thread of intimacy in your relationship doesn’t get lost with this big life change.
Be gentle with yourself and the changes you’re experiencing.
The world is not very gentle with new parents, so allowing space for self-forgiveness and compassion for your process is vital. There is no rush to “get back” the sex life you once had. Try not to focus on your previous sex life or desires. Create space for new forms of expressing your sexuality. Be gentle with yourself as you rediscover your body and desires. Checking in with yourself by doing a yes, no, maybe list or pleasure mapping can be helpful ways to connect your sexual being.
Take the goal out of sex.
When you feel ready to have sex again, there might be this unlying pressure to have it be the same as it used to, or you could possibly feel like there is a goal to orgasm. Decrease all of this external pressure by focusing on the intricacies and small pleasures of sex. The soft graze of your lover's hand on your thigh, the sensation you get when you press up against their naked body, the jolt from having your hair pulled or back scratched. Instead of focusing on the goal of orgasm, shift your intention to simply create a pleasurable experience together.
Get intimate time on the calendar.
It may sound like the least sexy thing ever, but planning ahead can take away the pressure of who is going to initiate sex and will help you keep intimacy as a priority in your partnership. As new parents, it’s easy to let weeks — even months — go by without connecting with one another.
Putting sexy time on the calendar doesn’t mean that sex absolutely *has* to happen on this day, it just means you’re setting an intention to be intimate with one another. That could mean taking a bath together, giving one another a massage, going out dancing, cooking a meal with aphrodisiacs in it, taking sexy pictures of or for one another. There’s the possibility for sex, but no pressure if it’s not where you’re at in the moment.
There’s no shame in needing extra support.
Our culture is not one that emphasizes collective care for families, so we have become very partitioned in that the nuclear family is seen as a unit by itself. There is no shame in calling on your friends, community, family (biological or chosen), and neighbors for added support.
You can create a shared calendar where people can offer to cook meals for your family to take away that added task. Freeing up time from small tasks like cooking, cleaning, and running errands can allow new parents to keep a semblance of playfulness and fun in their lives. Not everything will feel like a draining task and this might open up some energy and time for sex and intimacy with one another.
You might also call on additional support from a therapist if you’re struggling with postpartum depression. Taking care of yourself and your new child can be a collective task that invites in more joy than pressure to constantly do it all. As cliche as it sounds, raising children truly does take a village — you just have to figure out who is in yours.